2,000 mile road trip, a new unfamiliar city and a burning desire for new gadgets compelled me to buy the just-released TomTom Go 300 (right), their second-generation portable car navigation device for the low low price of 26-weeks of hard-labor for Uncle Autoblog (or $620) – far less than all the integrated vehicle nav systems. Is this a bargain? Or should I have shelled out the extra cash?

This is actually my second attempt at TomTom?s Go series. Unlike Walt, I?ve always liked GPS systems. But the pathetic red-on-black ?I can only show you one arrow at a time? nav offered in my 2002 Audi was never a serious contender, so when I saw the first TomTom Go in 2003, I was giddy as a school girl. When I bought it, I was glad Fry?s had a return policy.

Everything about the first TomTom Go exceeded my expectations, except for the pesky little thing called map accuracy. Two out of the first three locations I entered into the system resulted in wildly inaccurate mapping. I almost cried in disappointment ? like a school girl who finds her favorite doll with no hair. So, back to the store it went.

Now, I?m all grown up. So, about a year later, I set myself up for another disappointment. But this time, so far, so good: 16 entries. One mistaken location. In fact, the road didn?t even exist, according to the Go 300. But it?s a small road outside Bismarck, North Dakota, so I?ll let it slide. I will post an update on the map accuracy after logging a few thousand miles. Let?s take a look at some other factors.

TomTom Go 300The miniature TV-looking Go 300, and the soon to be released Go 700, feature pre-loaded maps of the entire US, allowing for, literally, out of the box operation. It also comes with a suction-cup mount for the window, USB cable for map updates, a DC and an AC charger, a carrying case and a soft cloth for wiping the screen. The fit and finish of the device was Honda-like. Good, solid, but material quality was not exactly a Lexus. The Go 300 has no external buttons besides the power and the release buttons for the suction cup mount. This makes the device small ? a pro and a con depending on whom you ask. Either way, it has to be kept it within a comfortable arm?s reach since it is entirely touch screen operated.

Once its internal battery was charged and a few set up questions have been answered, the GPS was off and running. It acquired enough satellites within a minute, which is a far cry from the 10 minute lag I experienced from the first version ? that?s plenty of time for me to get lost. The screen is bright, and TomTom offers several viewing modes including a high-contrast night version and 3D view. In direct evening sunlight, I could see my Blackberry screen clearly, but the TomTom was washed out.

TomTom Go 300For convertible owners, I would suggest mounting it very close to the driver (since the wind drowns out the voice) and near a pillar for additional shade. (Mounting arm shown at right)

Sporting a well-matched CPU, routing to a new destination took just a few seconds and this can be tested by merely turning onto a wrong road during a trip. The GPS device will then find another route based on your new location. You can chose from fastest, shortest or simplest routing, with the ability to avoid a certain point, like your ex?s house, or toll roads. It even offers you a choice of thousands points of interests such as restaurants based on proximity to your current location.

TomTom Go 300Audio prompts (available in English with Brit, Yankee and Oz flavors) were loud and clear with minimal distortion from the built-in mono speaker in the back of the system. The volume automatically varies based on vehicle speeds, so you don?t get a deafening ?turn left? when you are moving out of the drive way.

I did experience one system crash, which prompted the device to reboot itself. Even more unfortunately, it lost the current route, and prompted me to drive to the previous saved destination ? something that would have made me very angry had I not noticed it and blindly followed the system. I wasn?t able to duplicate this problem, but I will be on the lookout for this in the long-term review.

TomTom Go 300One significant new feature I have yet to test is the Bluetooth integration, which according to TomTom, allows you to download real-time traffic data via your cell phone. It requires a monthly subscription fee, so I?ll save that review for my next raise. To go one step beyond, the more expensive Go 700 offers the ability to view the caller ID and answer your cell phone using the GPS screen by leveraging the Bluetooth integration ? geek chic and possibly life-saving.

In summary, TomTom?s Go 300 is a keeper and a bargain. The small form factor and intuitive menus offer good all-around performance and the price puts this ahead of other touch screen GPS devices such as the Garmin StreetPilot c-series. In fact, it deserves serious consideration against a dealer-installed GPS system, especially if you consider the change you could pocket.

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